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State's Building Code Not Ready for Next Hurricane

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May 23, 2018

Negotiators for the city and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are hammering out new floodplain maps – which will carry huge implications for insurance costs in low-lying areas of New York. But as storm season approaches, a new study reveals that New York's building codes are less equipped to prevent property damage caused by future hurricanes than other states along the Eastern Seaboard, Crain’s reports

In “Rating the States: 2018,” issued by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, New York state scored a 64 out of a possible 100 points – ranking it 12th among the 18 waterfront states from Maine to Texas. Florida and New Jersey both scored above 90. The institute, a nonprofit that researches storm resiliency, said that more stringent building codes are one of the best ways for state governments to help prevent pricey property damage and the economic destabilization that comes along with it. New York suffered $32 billion in property damage in the wake of Superstorm Sandy

"Bad weather is not new and will not stop," the institute's General Counsel Debra Ballen said in a statement. "But what can and must stop is the continued construction, and inevitable destruction, of weak, vulnerable homes built – and too often rebuilt – in questionable locations." 

New York's poor score was due in part to the fact that Albany gives local jurisdictions discretion on whether or not to license contractors such as plumbers or electricians. While New York City requires licensure, the institute recommended such requirements be imposed statewide. 

Despite the low numbers, New York's score did improve since the last study in 2015, in part because of the adoption of a new building code. While New York State and several others in the study have adopted the 2015 version of a national standard code, the city is still on the 2009 iteration. It has made several piecemeal updates to the rules and to the zoning code to permit, for example, ground-floor retailers to deploy flood barriers. 

A spokesman for the Department of Buildings said that the administration is currently working on more code revisions that will bolster requirements for waterfront infrastructure, including piers and seawalls.

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